Painted in 1883, Le Bateau qui passe
is among the first works in which Claus explores fully the artistic possibilities of the river Lys (or Leie), just months after the artist had set up his house and studio on the banks of the river. All the main compositional elements are instantly recognisable: the meandering river, serried ranks of distant poplar trees, and poetic observation of light and atmosphere characterise the artist's most celebrated works. With the foreground bank acting as a compositional repoussoir
, the viewer follows the tenderly-depicted children's gaze from youthful play nearby to the men's herculean labour beyond, while across the flat countryside lie distant trees shrouded in mist.
Following breakthrough success at the Antwerp Salon
of 1882 with his large-format Le Combat de coqs
, Claus bought the house on the Lys outside Deinze which would become the legendary Villa Zonneschijn, and although he would keep his Antwerp studio until 1890, he would remain there for the rest of his life. The present work bears comparison to a contemporary work by William Stott of Oldham titled Le Passeur
, and both owe something to the influential Naturalism of Jules Bastien-Lepage, however the composition represents a successful and distinctively fresh and personal approach to the subject. This composition culminates most memorably in Claus' Le Pique-nique
, in which local country folk gaze on at a Belle Époque lunch party separated by the river (fig. 1).
Another version of the present work, with four children instead of three, is in a private collection.